Mike Zimmer, his family, Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman, Brian Robison, and Harrison Smith and more joined 25 children from Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota for a holiday shopping event at DICK'S Sporting Goods.
RICHFIELD, Minn. — Madelyn Barkow scanned the aisles of toys and racks of clothes looking for the perfect holiday item.
When the 15-year-old spotted a purple paddleboard, her search was over.
Madelyn was one of 25 young patients from Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota that received quite the shock Friday night, as the Mike Zimmer Foundation surprised the children with dinner, $200 gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods, and transportation to and from the store.
Even better, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his family, plus several Vikings players helped the children go shopping for the holidays.
Madelyn said a paddleboard was something she'd always wanted ever since she went out on the water before she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) 10 months ago.
"It was really exciting because I don't get out much, and when I do I'm usually sick or I just lay in bed," Madelyn said of the unexpected shopping spree. "It's really special that we could come here and do this because most of these kids … they forget [what] their real life [was like] before they got diagnosed.
"After you get diagnosed, everything is about treatment and getting better, so you don't get to do much," Madelyn added. "It was a night I won't forget."
Madelyn was joined by Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson, who was tasked with lugging the paddleboard to the checkout stand.
"We lift weights every week, so it's not that heavy," Wilson quipped. "We saw this one, and it was perfect. I'm glad she could get what she wanted."
Wilson was joined by teammates Harrison Smith, Terence Newman, Xavier Rhodes, Ben Gedeon, Kevin McDermott and Brian Robison.
The patients were transported in a limo bus to the sporting goods store, where they were served Chick-fil-A before Zimmer stepped to the microphone to surprise them with the gift cards and the announcement that the players were on their way.
"We just want you to have fun tonight and enjoy yourselves," Zimmer said. "We want you to have a Merry Christmas and a very speedy recovery."
The event was organized by Zimmer's daughter, Corri Zimmer White, who runs the foundation. She said the constant smiles on the kids' faces made the event unforgettable.
"It made all the work and all the behind-the-scenes stuff really worth it," White said. "They didn't know that the players were coming.
"When my dad told them they were getting $200 gift cards and the players were coming to help them shop, their jaws dropped," she added. "It was really cool."
Added Zimmer with a laugh: "She was nervous all day, just like me on game day."
Players were partnered with patients who began scoping out toys and items on their holiday wish list.
Andrew Rojas scanned the aisles with Smith and grabbed a few items, none better than a toy fishing rod.
"It's a better way for kids to fish," the 11-year-old excitedly explained. "It's like a NERF gun … you shoot it so the hook that goes to catch the fish goes out.
"Then the fish go right at it, and they get stuck to it," Rojas added.
Multiple Vikings players said the event put things in perspective for them, especially during the holiday season.
"(Zimmer has) always had a great heart," Newman said. "I don't think there's any better way to spend an evening than to help give back or support something that is meaningful and impactful for other people. It was cool to the excitement level when they found the gift that they wanted."
Added Robison: "Every year you do this, you realize how blessed you really are. It's about coming out here and putting a smile on peoples' faces and making sure we can give them the best Christmas we possibly can."
The Vikings defensive end spent around 30 minutes on each level of the store with a family as they picked out winter gear.
Robison quickly and quietly covered the rest of the bill to provide for the family.
"We had a couple kids where they didn't necessarily get a bunch of toys or anything like that, but they got things they needed — jackets, snow pants, boots," Robison said. "It was good to be able to get that in their hands and allow them to stay warm this winter.
"We take it for granted how blessed we are to just come out and buy the things we want," Robison later added. "You see a family like that where they're getting things they absolutely need, it's just a way for me to give back."
The event was the first hosted by the Mike Zimmer Foundation but is one of several ways in which the Zimmers have wanted to show their appreciation of the way that Minnesota has become home to them.
"It's been really rewarding," White said. "We just want to keep getting bigger and keep making an impact."
And while the Vikings would clinch the NFC North two days later, the Vikings head coach said he was glad to take a break from the grind and brighten the lives of children in need.
"It's a good way to kind of get football off your mind a little bit and understand that a lot of other things are important, too," Zimmer said. "A lot of these kids were Vikings fans, but a lot of them didn't know and they were just out here having a nice night."